Jeffrey Dahmer: villain or person?

Last week, asanixay posted a blog asking the question “why do super villains get all the love?” and compared villains to real life criminals and how fictional villains are not hated as much as real criminals are. I commented on this post, pointing out that is possible that people are able to see far more sides to villains in comics than they are able to see if real-life criminals which might make super villains more relatable or make it more clear why the villain does what he does. When I thought about what I should blog about this week, I kept coming back to this blog entry and remembered a graphic novel that was published a year ago titled “My Friend Dahmer.”

my friend dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most prolific serial killers in American history who raped and murdered 17 men and boys. The artist went to school with Dahmer and recounts his friendship with Dahmer throughout middle school and high school. The story is not told from Dahmer’s perspective but instead is told from Derf’s perspective. It shows how what Dahmer did has had a knock on effect for everyone who knew him as highlighted by this panel:



Derf even takes on a sympathetic tone when talk about the issues Dahmer faced in school and takes a matter-of-fact tone about the fascination Dahmer developed with death:



I think the novel is an interesting intersection between trying to writing (accurately and maybe even fondly) about a person who once was your friend and who you have fond memories with when he’s been cast as the ultimate devil in mainstream consciousness  but also making it clear that you are not trying to defend what he did or support the actions he took.

I feel like the people who are most likely to pick up this book are people who are already interested in learning about serial killers and often understand or empathize with things that happened in their life that “flipped that switch” and made it possible for them to kill how they did (not saying just a bad childhood creates serial killers, but some sort of combination of bad experiences and genes). This type of story already appeals to them. But I wonder how this book might change the mindsets or world view of the average person who only knows Jeffrey Dahmer as the guy who killed little boys and nothing more. Would this book be able to make them think more critically of the news coverage of criminals? more critically about the social world around them and how they treat and understand other people? I can’t answer that question, but it is interesting to think about. What do you think?


  3 comments for “Jeffrey Dahmer: villain or person?

  1. phantommiria6
    March 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    I don’t think that anyone comes predisposition-ed or genetically programmed to be a serial killer. I know you said it was a combination of bad experiences and genes, but I’m going to argue that it’s not the genes at all. For instance, were Dahmer’s parents or anyone in his family murderers that we know of? And on the flip side of that, there are plenty of parents that murder someone and their children never kill anyone themselves. If you want to talk about genetics, I’ll agree with you in the case of mental illness. Things like bipolar disorder, OCD, and depression are all considered to be hereditary and these things, among other illnesses might, with some of their symptoms, make someone more likely to be a murderer, but I don’t think it applies to just plain genetics. I just read an article about Dahmer’s family and his mother had cerebral palsy, but other than that, they were both healthy and normal. I think more than likely it was the experiences of torture at school and mental agony at the divorce of his parents that caused the initial start of the issue. We’ve seen bullied kids “snap” time and time again on the news.

    With that said, I completely agree with you that writing this comic must have been very awkward for the author as his relationship with Dahmer undoubtedly was. Interesting still is the fact that this person decided to write a comic series about him. I think this just goes to show that comics are being used as a medium for different stories more and more frequently. We’ve heard of documentaries and biographies, but a comic biography? That’s a new one to me.

    • March 29, 2013 at 8:57 am

      when I mentioned genetics I was talking about mental illness, typically serial killers have a long history of mental illness. The reason I specifically mentioned genetics is because there are many many people who have experienced traumatic childhoods who don’t end up killing dozens of people and there are certain things that cannot totally be explained away by the environment. perhaps Dahmner was just naturally impulsive or some other trait that be linked to genetics but is not necessarily a bad trait which in conjunction with a bad environment lead to his murders.

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